The Causes and Effects of Jealousy


Jealousy is described as the emotional attitude of wishing not to lose something that is important to the subject’s self-definition to someone else (Ben-Ze’ev, 1990, pg. 489). An ancient and primitive emotion, jealously can lead to impulsive or reckless decisions, the creation of harm, the ruin of relationships, and an overall destructive state of mind. As with most emotions, it manifests itself differently from individual to individual, but most would agree that when experienced, it can often be overwhelming.

Jealousy is often associated with sexual relationships, but it can also manifest itself in relationships between siblings, friends, supposed social rivals and many other affiliations. The causes of jealousy vary from situation to situation, but are all associated with one feeling that something of value that they possess could be lost to another. The primary effects of jealousy are usually emotional and experienced by the individual alone. Secondary effects arise from how the subject reacts to that emotion.

It is theorized that jealousy in humans is a primitive emotion that evolved due to selective pressures during the Pleistocene Epoch (Harris, 2004, pg. 64). It is speculated that it was evolutionarily favorable for females to become jealous of potential sexual rivals, for if the male were to choose another mate he would take the resources he provided with him. This would leave her with no means to take care of herself and any offspring she may have had. Males, on the other hand, could never be completely certain of paternity, and did not want to waste their resources on an offspring that did not carry their genetic material. Jealousy was a response to prospective threats to the continuance of their own genetic lineage.

In today’s society jealousy can be sparked by a potential threat to one’s mate, social standing, emotional and physical well-being or resources. Infidelity, or the threat of infidelity, can cause extreme jealousy in both males and females. If an individual is in a position of social power and feels that that standing is jeopardized by another, jealousy is often resultant. Sibling rivalry is often a result of jealousy, with siblings vying for parental attention or resources such as food. In friendships, if one feels that they are losing the attention of their friend to another jealousy is almost unavoidable.

Primary responses to jealousy are both emotional and physical. Sadness, anger, depression, hopelessness and feelings of unworthiness are just some of the emotions that result from jealousy. Crying, increased pulse rate, sweating and shaking are some of the physical symptoms of jealousy. Feeling jealous is a natural reaction if one feels that their current state of well-being is threatened by another. What is perhaps more important is how one reacts to the negative emotions elicited by jealousy. The primary effects of jealousy affect only the individual experiencing the emotion whereas the secondary effects (how that individual reacts) can influence the subject or subjects of jealousy.

There are myriad examples of jealousy being explored in literature throughout human history. Poor Io is a hapless victim of Hera’s jealously in Greek mythology, Cinderella is made to slave away for a jealous stepmother and step sisters in the famous fairy tale, and Shakespeare immortalized the destructive effects of the emotion in many of his plays, but perhaps the most poignant example was the cautionary account of Othello.

Protagonist Othello reacts to his jealousy with rage which results in the death of the woman he loves. He later finds that she was not unfaithful, as he had suspected. Long before and long after the time of Shakespeare many individuals have reacted to jealousy in such a way. In various studies, jealousy was found to have been one of the top three motives for non-accidental homicides where motive is known (Harris, 2004, pg. 62). Although an individual’s reaction to jealousy is not always to a murderous extreme, it serves as an example of how strong an emotion can be. Other effects of jealousy include a decrease in one’s perceived self-worth, emotional instability, feelings of bitterness, the breaking of relationships, prolonged depression and extreme anxiety.

The history of jealousy may date back to the very beginnings of modern man. It is a primitive response to any potential threat to one’s overall emotional and physical well-being. Feelings of jealousy are unavoidable, but it is critical to examine one’s emotional response to any stimuli and react with a clear and conscious mind. Emotions are temporary, but actions are irrevocable.


Thanks for Reading! Literature Consulted:

Ben-Ze’ev, Aaron. (1990). Envy and jealousy. Canadian Journal of Philosophy, 20(4), 487-516.

Harris, Christine. (2004). The evolution of jealousy. American Scientist, 92, 62-71.

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Angel709 profile image

Angel709 5 years ago from midwest

quite informative.

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